2008-01-30 / Features

Consumer Debt Clinic Opens At Queens Civil Court

Residents of Queens County will soon have a new resource to assist them in dealing with consumer debt cases in Civil Court. On Friday, January 25, "CLARO" will be opening at Queens Civil Court. CLARO which stands for the Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office, will be a legal advice clinic for people representing themselves in consumer debt cases. CLARO will be staffed by pro bono volunteer attorneys from the Queens County Bar Association's Volunteer Lawyers Project and by students from the St. John's University School of Law. The implementation of the program has had the cooperation and assistance of the Legal Aid Society, Queens Civil Practice, Attorney-in- Charge April A. Newbauer and Supervising Judge of Queens Civil Court the Hon. Bernice D. Siegal, although court personnel will not be involved in clinic services.

CLARO, which has been in operation in Brooklyn for two years, has been successful in assisting the huge and ever-increasing number of people facing consumer debt cases in New York City. An overwhelmingly large number of these people cannot afford to retain a private attorney and low-income legal service providers are not equipped to deal with the size of this problem. Elderly persons, single mothers, persons with lowlevel English proficiency, and low-income people are forced to represent themselves pro se against collection agency attorneys who have vastly greater knowledge of the Civil Court debt collection process and dangerously greater bargaining power CLARO attempts to remedy this inequity. Rather than attempt representation of just a relative handful of these debtors, the limited resources available are maximized by offering debtors the assistance of CLARO, a free walk-in clinic that provides legal advice on how these individuals can best represent themselves.

Beginning from 2 to 4 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 25, 2008 and every Friday thereafter at Queens Civil Court, 89-17 Sutphin Blvd., Jamaica, Room 116, CLARO volunteer lawyers and law students will provide information and advice to self-represented litigants in an attempt to demystify the legal process and alleviate some of the anxiety experienced by the pro se litigant. Attorneys interested in volunteering for Queens CLARO should call Mark Weliky at (718) 291-4500.

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